Working with several different clients means working with several different inboxes. More inboxes means more emails. More emails means more tasks to keep track of! Over time, I’ve learned how to make my inbox work for me and not against me.
My number one rule: I use my inbox as a to-do list and don’t let items pile up. I’ve heard several time management gurus talk about closing your inbox and only checking emails at specific times. I don’t believe in this. Members want answers and they want answers now. This doesn’t mean I constantly have my inbox open reading and responding to emails, it means that I monitor the subject lines as they pop up at the bottom of my screen. If it looks like something that A) I can easily respond to in under two minutes or B) needs immediate attention, I take care of it and then delete it. The remaining emails are on my “to-do” list, whether they are items that I need more time to take care of or those that just didn’t need an immediate response.
Secondly, “Waiting for Response” folders are lifesavers. If I’m sending an email that requires the person to respond as part of an important task, I blind copy myself. When it comes back to me, I drop it into my “Waiting for Response” folder for the appropriate client (to save a step, I could even set up a rule that says, “If I’m blind copied on an email that I send, go to this folder”). This way, I have one folder with everything that I am waiting on people for—much easier than searching through my sent/deleted items or trying to remember it all. It also keeps things out of my inbox/to-do list. When I’ve received a sufficient answer, I delete it from the folder. If something is hanging around in the folder for more than a few days, I know exactly who I need to follow up with.
To ensure that I don’t forget about items in my “Waiting for Response” folders, I change the settings so that it shows how many total messages are in the folder and not just how many are unread.
Lastly, Outlook inboxes have standard columns such as “From,” “Subject,” Received,” and “Categories.” For the items that are left in my actual inbox/to-do list, I add a column for “Notes” to keep track of the status of the task or important things I need to remember. For example, a board member might send me a lengthy email, but there is really only one task I need to complete. I call that task out in my “Notes” column rather than having to re-read the entire email to remember what it was.
These are just some of the tips I use to keep my inbox squeaky clean and manageable. What tricks do you use?